On Science Fiction and the Business of a Revolution

The following post has been assembled from my comments in a recent discussion on Google+.

Superversive vs. Subversive is symptomatic. Indie vs. Big Five is definitive.

The social aspect of the battle for SFF's soul has been pretty well covered by others. I'll address the business angle, which is the biggest factor that got us here, and which I'm convinced will be decisive and definitive.

Jeffro has written eloquently on the group amnesia that's stunted fans' and writers' knowledge of the pulp SF canon. A similar; perhaps even worse, historical illiteracy now enforces the false notion that "The Big 5 are the industry, and it's always been this way."

The same propaganda machine that's foisted PC message fic on readers works overtime to hide its own quite recent WWII-era origins. People forget that Poe self-published, & it was considered normal. 19th century bookstores had their own presses for POD.

"Publishing" poorly describes The NY houses' business model. They're really a consignment lumber distribution cartel. These paper monopolists cast themselves as the True Guardians of Literature.

Meanwhile, frustrated lit fic authors started slumming it as SF editors. They shifted the focus in spec fic from fun to sentence-level wordsmithing and socially relevant messages. The entryists sought validation for their literary pretensions from NY. Now we have The Fifth Season.

Talk of coexisting with "Narrative fic" already concedes a false premise planted by the enemy.

"What is the purpose of art?" is a self-negating question. It's like asking what the other person wore if I say I was alone.

Even saying that art is for entertainment is a slight distortion. Entertainment is a leisure activity. Marxism gives leisure a bad rap, since Marx defined man as "the animal that works."

As usual, he had it backwards. Man doesn't perform work as an end in itself. Man works to obtain leisure, which is its own end.

Long story short: Oscar Wilde & MGM right. Marx wrong.

Those who use SF as a vehicle to push a Narrative aren't making art. It's propaganda. You might as well say that real fruit and wax fruit can coexist in the same market.

It doesn't matter how skillfully a wax apple is made to look like a real one. I'm not eating it.

Publishing isn't zero-sum for Indie, but it's negative-sum for the Big Five.

To wrap up by way of analogy, NY almost wiped out citrus and apple farmers by shipping crates of wax fruit through their lumber sales channels. Meanwhile, their shills told everybody that the wax fruit was real.

Then something happened that the lumber cartel did not intend. Individual gardeners started selling homegrown produce online, totally bypassing the NY-controlled lumber distro channels.

NY cranked up their wax fruit sculptors' PAs to 11, but to no avail since people have taste buds.

The perfect example to bridge analogy and reality: David the Good.

Numbers don't lie. The Big 5's latest earnings report shows most of them taking losses (some approaching 11%) or at best breaking even. All pegged falling eBook sales as the reason for their decline.

Amazon, the #1 sales channel for print and eBooks, reports that the eBook market is still growing.

The Big 5 wish this was a zero sum game. For them, as Vox rightly pointed out, it's a negative sum game. Not only are they losing market share, people are abandoning the one distribution channel that NY controls for one where indie dominates.

It's already over. There will be no coexistence. There will be no reconciliation. Because you can't reconcile with a corpse.

Jeffro also has oblivious Big Five authors dead to rights. Every writers' panel still takes NY's dominance for granted. They have no idea what's happening. The wailing and gnashing of teeth on the (very near) day when the hammer falls will be epic.

You can help to hasten the inevitable:



  1. I've said it before in other places and I'll say it again: one very valid way to look at the entire Sad/Rabid Puppies affair is to forget the politics and see it as the new blood of indie publishing vs. the tired dinosaurs of trad publishing.

    Indeed, to certain of my friends who aren't necessarily on "our" side in the culture wars, this is even the way I've explained the Puppies. They get it this way, and tend to view the Puppies a lot more favorably than they otherwise might.

    But as you rightly point out here, this extends far beyond the Hugo awards. Trad publishing isn't just contracting; it's dying. Expect a lot more viciousness during the process. Cumbersome beasts don't die easily - they lash out at everything around them when they go.

    1. You said it. I can also vouch for your legacy vs. indie publishing approach to explaining SP.

      People have told me that following this blog and other indie/superversive authors' accounts has changed their thinking; not just on the Hugo controversy, but on the entire legacy media Narrative of which they now see it as only a part.

      Trad publishers and the old media in general were oblivious to the mortal threat posed by indie. Now they can't ignore the flood of data but are in denial. Facing the truth now won't help them. It's far too late. But your prediction of vicious death throes will be all the more correct if the dying beast finally recognizes who killed it.

    2. By the way, this is why I don't bother engaging the CHORFs who troll the comments over at Brad's or Mad Genius Club anymore. It's become clear that the self-appointed Real Fans who have put all their money on the tradpub horse--which is limping along on a broken leg--are wholly irrelevant to me and all indie authors.

      Sure, I'll use the SF SJWs' predictable outbursts for my own marketing purposes, but beyond that I've found no benefits to acknowledging them and suffered no detriments from simply ignoring them.

  2. All true, but wait! There's more!

    The Big Five have forgotten how to sell books to independent bookstores. Back when Borders, B&N, and Books-a-Million were the bulk of bricks'n'mortar bookselling, the process was easy and fairly predictable. The customers in such bookstores were relatively uniform in their tastes, and initial orders were calculated by spreadsheets and data-mining software. Little by little, buyers at the big chains were swapped out by computer-driven ordering, and most geeks know that algorithms don't read books. The big book chains also had "pay to play" programs, in which publishers could buy favorable positioning and special displays, which guaranteed a fairly predictable number of incremental sales. More spreadsheets.

    As the number of independent stores and small chains shrank, the big imprints paid less attention to them, and relied on the small bookstore buyers to somehow be aware of upcoming frontlists and somehow decide which books were winners and which weren't. Interestingly, the small stores were better at predicting winners than the big chains. Well, bookselling is a low-margin business. The little guys HAD to be careful or they'd go under. Meanwhile, the Big 5 put their focus on the Big Chains.

    Then we started to lose the Big Chains. Amazon had a lot to do with this, and later on, ebooks. Borders is gone. B&N is shaky, and is closing stores. I don't know how BAM is doing, but they're not big enough to carry the whole industry.

    Smaller, specialty, and independent bookstores are seeing something of a resurgence. It'll never be like it was in the 80s and before, but the important point is that publishers don't know how to sell to many completely unrelated retailers. As long as the big chains were there, they shrugged and let them order and considered them gravy. Now Amazon and gravy are what's on the menu. New York still doesn't know how to deal with this.

    I could go on, but the takeaway is this: The Big Five and the Big Chains had 20-odd years to co-evolve into a single book ecosystem. This ecosystem is breaking down for numerous reasons, all of them involving online sales of both new and used books, and (of course) the rise of indie ebooks for $5 or less.

    It won't end well for the Big Five. However, I can promise you that it WILL end well for readers.

    1. Thanks for showing us the score, especially since you've been teasing for a while now :)

      Folks know I keep my ear to the ground on the indie and tradpub sides of the tracks. Your breakdown jibes with what I've heard from others in the know--including horror stories of glitches in B&N's ordering software sending midlist authors into sales death spirals that store managers are powerless to stop. Only a direct appeal to the publisher by one author's legendary editor kept that house from dropping him.

      You're also correct that independent bookstores are coming back in a big way. The bad news is that they're pretty hostile to indie authors who sell through Amazon.

  3. Brian

    For a real insider discussion with data and other business oriented perspective I recommend Mike Shatzkinn at idealog.com

    I don't understand everything he posts but the comments are really helpful and often has a good debate

    1. Thanks for the recommendation. I was aware of Mike's blog, but I'll have to read it more regularly in the future.